Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘homes’

A Smart Home

UC Davis and Honda Unveil a Smart Home for a Zero-carbon Future
by Brandon Baker
Eco Watch & Nation of Change
3 April 2014

Honda and the University of California, Davis aren’t particularly known for constructing homes, but an ambitious project places the two entities at the forefront of designing homes capable of producing more renewable energy than they consume.

They began constructing the Honda Smart Home last spring and unveiled it less than a year later on the West Village campus of UC Davis.

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While homes and cars in the U.S. account for about 44 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the Smart Home is expected to generate a surplus of 2.6 megawatt-hours (Mwh) of energy per year, some of which will be used to power the Honda Fit electric vehicle (EV) that comes with it. A soon-to-be-selected member of the UC Davis community will reside at the home as researchers from the company and college observe the production and consumption associated with their vision for net-zero energy living and transportation.

“What we’re trying to do here is create a vision for zero-carbon living and personal mobility,” said Michael Koenig, project leader for the Honda Smart Home.

With advanced lighting, geothermal heating and cool and a 9.5 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, the Smart Home’s design will use less than half of the energy a similarly sized new home in Davis would when it comes to heating, cooling and lighting. It’s also three times more water-efficient than the average U.S. home. Honda and UC Davis will work with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in evaluating the home as well as the potential for more efficient technologies that positively impacting housing, transportation, energy and the environment.

“In West Village, UC Davis made a commitment to build zero net energy housing and gave our research center the goal of creating the first university hub to focus and energy and transportation research,” said Dan Sperling, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. “Honda Smart Home is a dynamic environment that will help the university meet its research objectives and is a perfect example of the industry partnerships we strive to build.”

The 2.6 Mwh surplus per year, compared to about 13.3 Mwh for the average home represents a net offset of nearly 13,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, according to Honda. Researchers say the excess energy will anticipate possible future increases in energy needs like additional inhabitants or more EVs in a household.

As for water efficiency, the Smart Home contains dual-flush toilets, low-flow sink and shower faucets and a high-efficiency dishwashing machine and dishwasher. Those utilities should bring down the water consumption of the average home, which typically uses 27 percent of its water consumption on a toilet by itself.

Read entire article and more at NATION OF CHANGE

Stealing the Land

The Truth About Land Grabs
From Oxfam America

We all rely on the land—our common ground—and farms to put food on the table. But the world’s farmland is at risk. Here in the US, we have been losing more than an acre of farmland every minute. In developing countries, the rush for land is even more intense.

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What’s a land grab?

Imagine waking up one day to be told you’re about to be evicted from your home. Being told that you no longer have the right to remain on land that you’ve lived on for years. And then, if you refuse to leave, being forcibly removed. For many communities in developing countries, this is a familiar story.

In the past decade, more than 81 million acres of land worldwide—an area the size of Portugal–has been sold off to foreign investors. Some of these deals are what’s known as land grabs: land deals that happen without the free, prior, and informed consent of communities that often result in farmers being forced from their homes and families left hungry. The term “land grabs” was defined in the Tirana Declaration (2011) by the International Land Coalition, consisting of 116 organizations from community groups to the World Bank.

The global rush for land is leaving people hungry

The 2008 spike in food prices triggered a rush in land deals. While these large-scale land deals are supposedly being struck to grow food, the crops grown on the land rarely feed local people. Instead, the land is used to grow profitable crops—like sugar cane, palm oil, and soy—often for export. In fact, more than 60 percent of crops grown on land bought by foreign investors in developing countries are intended for export, instead of feeding local communities. Worse still, two-thirds of these agricultural land deals are in countries with serious hunger problems.

Righting the wrong of land grabs

With your help, Oxfam has been campaigning on land grabs as part of our GROW campaign for food justice.

People like you successfully pushed the World Bank to commit itself to a new UN standard on how land is governed. This means they’ll work to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people have their land rights respected.

In 2011, 769 families were forced out of their homes and off thier land in Polochic Valley. Their crops and homes were burned. And three people died. Over 100,000 people signed to get the Guatemala Government to declare support for the Polochic communities and, to date, 140 families have had their land returned. The campaign continues.

To send a global message about land grabs, thousands of Oxfam supporters and Coldplay fans sent photos and videos of ordinary things out of place, echoing the displacement of land grabs. These clips were edited together into a music video that helped raise the profile of land grabs during the campaign targeting the World Bank.

What’s next?

Communities are already standing up and demanding their rights. And because big food companies rely on your continued support to stay in business, you have a rare opportunity to stand with local farmers as they struggle to retain their farmland. Visit BehindtheBrands.org and see how the 10 biggest food and beverage companies score on their land policies.

– See more at: Oxfam America.

Climate Displacing Thousands

From Nation of Change and New America Media
by Andrew Lam
16 August 2012

The Rising Tide – Environmental Refugees

The modern world has long thought of refugees in strictly political terms, victims in a world riven by competing ideologies. But as climate change continues unabated, there is a growing population of displaced men, women and children whose homes have been rendered unlivable thanks to a wide spectrum of environmental disasters.

Despite their numbers, and their need, most nations refuse to recognize their status.

The 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person with a genuine fear of being persecuted for membership in a particular social group or class. The environmental refugee – not necessarily persecuted, yet necessarily forced to flee – falls outside this definition.

Not Recognized, Not Counted

Where the forest used to be, torrential rains bring barren hills of mud down on villages. Crops wither in the parched earth. Animals die. Melting glaciers and a rising sea swallow islands and low-lying nations, flooding rice fields with salt water. Factories spew toxic chemicals into rivers and oceans, killing fish and the livelihood of generations.

So people flee. Many become internally displaced, others cross any and all borders in order to survive.

Experts at last year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) estimated their numbers would reach 50 million by 2020, due to factors such as agricultural disruption, deforestation, coastal flooding, shoreline erosion, industrial accidents and pollution. Others say the figure will triple to 150 million by 2050.

Today, it is believed that the population of environmentally displaced has already far outstripped the number of political refugees worldwide, which according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) is currently at around 10.2 million.

In 1999 the International Red Cross reported some 25 million people displaced by environmental disasters. In 2009 the UNHCR estimated that number to be 36 million, 20 million of whom were listed as victims of climate change-related issues.

More accurate statistics, however, are hard to come by.

Because the term “environmental refugee” has not been officially recognized, many countries have not bothered to count them, especially if the population is internally displaced. Other countries consider them migrants, and often undocumented immigrants, and therefore beyond the protection granted refugees.

Another factor obscuring the true scope of the population is the fact that their numbers can rise quite suddenly — such as after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, or Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, which in a matter of hours displaced more than 3 million people.

A “Hidden Crisis” No More

Two decades ago, noted ecologist Norman Myers predicted that humanity was slowly heading toward a “hidden crisis” in which ecosystems would fail to sustain their inhabitants, forcing people off the land to seek shelter elsewhere. With hurricanes Katrina and Rita, that crisis became painfully obvious.

Along with images of hundreds of thousands of displaced Americans scurrying across the richest nation on Earth searching for new homes came an awareness that no matter how wealthy or powerful, no country is impervious to the threat of climate related catastrophe.

Indeed, being displaced by natural disasters may very well become the central epic of the 21st century. Kiribati, the Maldives and Tuvalu are disappearing as we speak, as the sea level continues to rise. The World Bank estimates that with a 1 meter rise in sea level Bangladesh — with a population of 140 million — would lose 17.5 percent of its land mass and along with it river bank erosion, salinity intrusion, flood, damage to infrastructures, crop failure, destruction of fisheries, and loss of biodiversity.

Those that have already fled the country to neighboring India – largely because of flooding — face lives of immense misery and discrimination.

China, in particular, is a hot spot of environmental disasters as it buckles under unsustainable development, giving rise to rapid air pollution and toxic rivers. Alongside desertification, these man-made catastrophes have already left millions displaced.

John Liu, director of the Environmental Education Media Project, spent 25 years in China and witnessed the disasters there. He offered the world this unapologetic, four- alarm warning some years ago: “Every ecosystem on the planet is under threat of catastrophic collapse, and if we don’t begin to acknowledge and solve them, then we will go down.”

Growing Numbers, Fewer Alternatives

When President Obama granted temporary protected status (TPS) to undocumented Haitians living in the United States in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, it was a step in the right direction. After all, repatriating them back to an impoverished nation devastated by one of the worst-ever recorded disasters would be immoral at best, and at worst, a crime against humanity.

Sadly, such actions are rare and when they do come, they manage to address barely a fraction of the pressing legal and humanitarian needs of the growing population. What solutions do exist, experts agree, must recognize that the needs of environmental refugees are one and the same as those of our planet.

Read complete article at Nation of Change.

Bombs Away

Excerpt from biography Paging Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest.

Fred Branfman emerged from the jungles of Laos carrying a heavy load. He wasn’t weighed down with ammunition, guns or rations. The international volunteer, who had been in and out of Laos for over three years, was burdened with something far greater than goods or a heavy backpack.

What he carried were photographs, drawings, documents and stories of the Laotian people and the devastation that had been inflicted upon them by United States bombs – bombs that officially didn’t exist; bombs that burned flesh and chopped off limbs; took the lives of mothers, children, elders and babies; bombs that destroyed homes, crops and entire villages; bombs that were intended for the communist Pathet Lao.

If was 1969, and the war in Vietnam was in full swing, though much of the fighting had been diverted from ground troops to killing by air. From 1968 through 1974, Laos had more ordnance, including cluster, fragmentation, Napalm, and 500 pound bombs – dropped on their lands and their people than did the Koreans, Europeans and Japanese during the entirety of the Korean War and World War II. The Pentagon estimated that they were dropping about six million pounds of bombs per day. Historically a gentle land of farmers, most Laotians had no idea what was happening or why America was trying to destroy them.

Few Americans had heard of the destruction taking place on The Plain of Jars and its 50,000 inhabitants, let alone that Laos and the U. S. government was intent on keeping it that way. U. S. reporters were not allowed on bombing runs into Laos and were restricted from speaking to military brass. Everything surrounding the raids was classified, but not all the people who witnessed or knew of the carnage could be silenced.

Fred Branfman carried pictures of people on the ground, the victims of impersonal high altitude air strikes authorized by U. S. Ambassador Godley and frequently directed by the CIA. He had close-ups of unexploded bombs bearing the symbol of the US; bombs dropped by American pilots who had never met a Laotian, let alone knew one. But Fred knew them personally; he had been to their homes, talked to the elders, and shared meals with families and communities. Fred was in bed, not with the military, but with the stories of the Laotian people. He was embedded with scenes and images he would rather not hold. He was embedded with unbearable atrocities that had been committed by his fellow Americans and was determined that the truth of these events not be buried with the Laotian people or minimized by U.S. propaganda that denied civilians were ever targeted.

Some Laotian Peace Corps friends of Fred’s told him about a young captain in the Air Force who was going to Washington to testify about the bombing of Laos to the Fulbright Foreign Relations Committee, the most powerful committee in the senate, chaired by Senator William Fulbright. They’d said this captain was a physician at the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base In Northeast Thailand, just over the Laotian border. The base was a hub for the US and CIA aircraft that were bombing the very people he held so dear. This officer had put out the word, through his civilian friends and employees of Air America (a front for the CIA), that he was looking for informational ammo about the situation in Laos.

How this captain had been so blatant about his mission and survived being thrown out of the Air Force was beyond Fred’s comprehension. He was just glad there was somebody sane enough to listen, someone who might be able to help stop the madness.

In late fall of 1969, Fred Branfman met Capt. Arnie Leff, MD, USAF, at The Bungalow, a counter-culture way station for off-duty military and civilians traveling throughout Southeast Asia. He entrusted all his papers, files, interviews and photographs about the bombing of Laos to Dr. Leff, a passionate Jewish-American kid from Brooklyn who had the guts, chutzpah, or naivete to stand up to the U. S. military and political regime and say, “This is wrong. This isn’t the America I believe in.”

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